Joseph Grimaldi

Definition

Theater

  • (1778 - 1837), Britain's most famous clown. He played animportant role in the development of English pantomime fromthe harlequinade by emphasizing verbal comedy and introducingthe now traditional story lines derived from nursery rhymes and fairytales. His first success as a writer was Harlequin and Mother Gooseor The Golden Egg, performed in 1806 at Covent Garden,a venue he was to dominate for the next 17 years. Grimaldi also createdthe traditional clown-look of a white face with red cheeks, a baldwig with tufts of hair, and loose breeches. Clowns are often namedJoey in his honour.

    The illegitimate son of a Drury Lane ballet master, Grimaldibecame a child actor at Sadler's Wells before moving into pantomimeat Drury Lane. His famous routines included opening an oyster, ridinga giant carthorse, grasping a red-hot poker, devouring a pudding,picking a pocket, and sneezing.

    One contemporary wrote that "neither the wise, the proud,the fair, the young, nor the old were ashamed to laugh till tearscoursed down their cheeks at Joe and his comicalities." He becamea gifted mime artist, acrobat, dancer, and singer, and even triedserious acting, appearing in Hamlet in 1800 and 1805. Grimaldidamaged his health through overwork and retired at the peak of hiscareer at Christmas 1823. Following a further decline in his healthand the death of his son from alcoholism in 1832 he described himselfas "grim all day".

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